SIERRA CLUB News:
In reaction to the City of Farmington’s announcement that it would no longer pursue takeover and conversion of San Juan Generating Station to a carbon-capture coal plant, Four Corners community and climate groups issued the following statements:
“The carbon capture conversion was unrealistic in reviving a polluting plant that, for decades, put our community’s health and environment at risk. Let’s move forward to proven renewable energy so that future generations can see energy transformation with cleaner air and water for our tribal communities and climate,” Naeva Executive DirectorAhtza Chavez said.
“I spent over 20 years as an industrial chemist at San Juan Generating Station and El Paso Natural Gas. What Enchant proposed would never work well and would have been in constant upset/breakdown mode and constantly polluting our air,” said Norman Norvelle, a Farmington resident, former San Juan plant chemist and Sierra Club Northern New Mexico Group board member. “I spent the other 20 years in environmental health and safety. Operating these coal-fired power plants is not good for the environment or people. Finally, with the aridification/drought of the Four Corners area we simply do not have the water for this proposed project.”
“I can see clearly now. I can’t believe how clear the air has been since the closure of SJGS. Before, the air only became clear after a big rainstorm,” Norvelle said. “Now it is that clear most of the time.”
“PNM’s plan to replace the services of the San Juan coal plant with clean energy, and New Mexico’s groundbreaking Energy Transition Act, position the state and utility as potential leaders in reducing costs to customers, supporting the communities that have served the energy needs of the state, and meeting critical climate goals,” Jeremy Fisher, Senior Advisor at Sierra Club said. “Enchant Energy’s attempt to keep this coal plant online would have maintained years of climate and noxious emissions, added novel and dangerous waste streams to the community, and undermined the region’s ability to lead clean-energy development.”
“With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the City of Farmington now has the opportunity to aggressively pursue clean-energy incentives in the form of direct-pay tax credits for solar, storage, and wind, support low-income customers through added tax credits and federal rebates, and even use EPA’s new grants program to drive down the cost of decarbonizing the Four Corners region,” Fisher said.
Norvelle highlighted the need to properly reclaim and clean up the plant now that its fate is confirmed. “Over 50 years of damage was done to the environment. From releasing plant wastewater effluent into the Shumway Arroyo to air pollutants and mercury into the San Juan River watershed to plant solid and liquid waste disposal into unlined surface mine pits. There will be need for extensive cleanup and monitoring to verify cleanup of the contaminants. Sampling and monitoring should be done by 3 or 4 different organizations to assure completeness and honesty.”
“With this decision by the City of Farmington acknowledging that the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station will in fact stay closed and be decommissioned, the Four Corners community can finally get on with a just transition to the sustainable economic future they deserve,” said Tom Solomon and Jim Mackenzie 350 New Mexico co-coordinators.
“The solar and storage replacement power approved in 2020 will provide $1 billion in investment in the communities most impacted by San Juan,” added Mona Blaber, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter communications director. “With pandemic supply-chain and other delays, it is incumbent upon PNM to work with developers of the solar and storage replacement power to overcome these obstacles and get those projects online as soon as possible. Analyses showed that the San Juan Solar project, to be sited in the same school district, will replace the entire property-tax base of San Juan.”
In 2017, majority owner and operator Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) announced that the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station was too expensive to operate and that the last two of the plant’s four units would be retired in 2022. On-the-ground communities and advocates had long since called attention to the plant’s expense and damage to health, air and our climate.
Enchant and Farmington faced a mountain of obstacles before they could even consider burning coal at San Juan again. The other plant owners did not agree to transfer ownership to Farmington, in part because of liability concerns. PNM shut down the last unit at San Juan in September. Other owners are collaborating on a demolition plan for the plant, to be submitted by Dec. 31. San Juan Mine owner Westmoreland sealed the mine in early December. Converting San Juan to carbon capture would have cost Farmington and Enchant an estimated $1.4 billion, and 365 of the plant’s 924 megawatts of power would have been devoted solely to running the carbon-capture equipment.